Opposition parties in Punjab skip open debate on SYL canal

Opposition parties in Punjab skip open debate on SYL canal

Opposition leaders on Wednesday skipped the open debate called by Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann to discuss the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal row, accusing the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) of compromising Punjab’s river water interests. It was only Mr. Mann who was present at the stage during the event.

However, the Chief Minister said in dearth of any tangible issues against him and his government, the Opposition parties had run away from the debate.

After the AAP government faced criticism over the SYL canal — the focal point of a water-sharing dispute between Haryana and Punjab — Mr. Mann had challenged Leaders of the Opposition parties for an open debate on issues concerning the State.

Tight security arrangements were set in place for the event that was held at the Punjab Agricultural University in Ludhiana. However, several people ranging from farmers, teachers, youth, and others who wished to join the debate were denied entry to the university, inviting sharp criticism.

Farmers disappointed

Darshan Pal, co-ordinator of Samyukt Kisan Morcha, the umbrella body of 500 farmer outfits, termed the event as an ‘immature exercise’ by the Chief Minister. Mr. Lal said when the event was an open debate, stopping people from attending it was unfortunate and wrong. “People had already given their verdict against other political parties in the previous Assembly elections. Now, it is for the AAP to give answers about their promises. Farmers wanted to ask them questions but they were not allowed to participate. The event was an immature exercise, which turned out to be futile. It has left people disappointed,” said Mr. Pal.

As Punjab BJP chief Sunil Jakhar, State Congress president Amarinder Singh Raja Warring, Leader of the opposition (Congress) Partap Singh Bajwa, and SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal stayed away from the event.

The SAD, the Congress, and the BJP alleged that the ruling AAP resorted to clampdown as it feared to face people’s questions surrounding the government’s failures.

Senior SAD leader Daljit Singh Cheema said civil liberties were restricted in Ludhiana, which “reminded the people of the days of Emergency, and the AAP has insulted Punjabis by refusing to answer questions”. He said the State government had compromised Punjab’s stand on the SYL canal by asserting that Rajasthan and Haryana had complete rights over the State’s river waters.

Punjab BJP president Sunil Jakhar hit out at the Chief Minister, accusing him of making a mockery of the State’s water concern surrounding the SYL canal for which Punjabis will never forgive him.

“By first keeping SYL out of the list of issues, and choosing to speak on SYL, Mr. Mann has belittled his own image as a Chief Minister and the significance of issues being faced by those who voted for him in 2022… The attempt was to keep every political leader away from debate by hook or crook,” alleged Mr. Jakhar.

The Leader of the Opposition termed the debate as a ‘drama’. “The AAP government once again demonstrated its insincerity over the loot of Punjab’s river waters. “A night before the debate, the Punjab CM through his X post changed the topic of the debate from the SYL canal to four issues including drug abuse, growing gangsterism, and unemployment. The SYL issue was nowhere in that X post, which wasn’t at all justified,” said Mr. Bajwa.

In his address, the Chief Minister said that these leaders were not able to find even a single thing against him or his government due to which they were not able to muster courage to face him on issues concerning Punjab.

The Chief Minister said that the Opposition leaders were invited to the debate so that every one could present their aspect on the platform. However, instead of coming here, these leaders had preferred to run away by citing frivolous reasons, the CM added.

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